Chinese Coins: Hé Wéi Guì. Harmony is Prized.
Posted by Peter Anthony on 1/18/2013
One of the first steps to collecting Chinese coins should be to understand why some coins are prized and others not. Collectors who are familiar with the factors that determine the price of other nations’ coins step into a different world with Chinese numismatics. While rarity and condition are certainly important, there are other considerations too.
Perhaps the best place to begin is with the idea of harmony. The desire for harmony is everywhere in Chinese culture and daily life and numismatics is no exception. It is said in China that harmony is prized, “hé wéi guì.” If you ever take a taxi ride in China, it is interesting to observe traffic as your driver weaves in and out of impossibly small breaks in the flow of cars. It always amazes me that despite what appears to be total chaos there are remarkably few cars on the road with dents and scrapes.
It reminds me of how long ago an Englishman stood by the Huangpu river in Shanghai. As he watched swarms of boats navigate its waters he commented that you couldn’t put half that many boats on the Thames without having numerous collisions. I think the reason is harmony. People in China are less assertive that a certain space belongs to them and instinctively avoid the conflict an accident creates. As a writer in the People’s Daily put it, “(harmony) advocates, diversity and balance and ‘arriving at the same destination by different routes, reaching unanimity after taking many things into consideration.’’’
This search for harmony is felt in the world of coins, too. The People’s Daily writer adds, “Gathering different things together and making them balanced is called "harmony." A set of coins is called a tao. The makeup of a tao is flexible, but the owner of the set must feel that it is balanced, complete and harmonious.
Until a few years ago the desire for sets was so strong that there was no market to speak of for single coins or for broken sets. For example, if a four-coin set was worth $200, then how much was one coin worth? Was it worth $50? No. Was it worth $40? No. How about $20? No. There was simply no interest in one coin out of a set unless that coin was very special.
Single coins are more sellable today, but not really because they are in demand as single coins. The demand for them is directly related to how many are needed to form sets. A good example can be found in the gold Panda series. One of the most popular kinds of sets is the year set. It takes the five B.U. denominations from 1 oz. down to 1/20 oz. from a single year and groups them into a Tao.
One of the keys to understanding Chinese numismatics is to recognize how the sense of Tao influences demand and value. NGC recognizes the importance of Tao. The NGC World Coin Census can be used to determine how difficult it is to form a full set of graded coins. Coins that are encapsulated in NGC holders make attractive sets that enhance their value, and create a harmonious presentation. That’s a good thing because, Hé wéi guì, harmony is prized.
Peter Anthony is an expert on Chinese modern coins with a particular focus on Panda coins. He as an analyst for NGC's Chinese Modern Coin Price Guide as well as a consultant on Chinese modern coins.